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Merrimack’s new course Global Pandemics: Challenges and Opportunities in the Context of COVID-19 offers students the opportunity to examine COVID-19 through the lens of multiple fields of study and practice.
It’s no coincidence that Mack Gives Back Day, an annual community-wide day of service on campus, falls around Veterans Day and St. Augustine’s birthday.
The event, held most recently on Saturday, Nov. 12, was organized to reflect the school’s humble beginnings as an Augustinian college educating World War II veterans.
“When I was a psychology intern, I did an internship at a veterans’ hospital near Chicago,” explained Father Raymond Dlugos, O.S.A., vice president for mission and ministry, who launched the initiative in 2012. “I got to know a lot of their stories and what strikes me about veterans is that we ask them to give everything and we don’t give them much back in return.”
With Mack Gives Back Day, Dlugos hopes to inspire the Merrimack community to live and serve in a way that’s worthy of veterans’ sacrifice. Although the event itself has undergone significant changes in recent years, its mission remains the same – “We honor those who serve by serving others.”
At the end of this year’s event, more than 700 volunteers packaged 90,000 meals for The Outreach Program of Pembroke to distribute locally.
Annie Lagunilla ‘24 and Lily Roth ‘25, both studying education, participated this year as members of Merrimack’s Jumpstart program, which sees students tutoring and mentoring local preschool children.
“It’s really nice to be giving back to the communities that are less served than ours,” said Langunilla as she prepared packages of pasta with tomato basil sauce.
Originally, Mack Gives Back Day saw students, faculty and staff serve their community off campus at various local organizations. For example, participants were asked to rake leaves and place flags for Veterans Day at cemeteries, wash fire trucks at nearby fire departments and help prepare meals at various shelters. Things changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When we hit the fall of 2020 — and we were here on campus — there was no way we were going to go out to the community,” said Dlugos.
So, the focus of Mack Gives Back Day shifted. Volunteers were now tasked with packing non-perishable meals on campus. Meals were then shipped to 10 local nonprofits including Lazarus House Ministries and Neighbors in Need in Lawrence, Sacred Hearts Parish in Haverhill and the Methuen and Lawrence YMCAs.
The event was held over seven Saturdays in 2020 and 2021. Due to COVID-19 regulations, only 20 people were allowed to work inside the Sakowich Campus Center’s Multipurpose room at a time. Despite this, volunteers were able to deliver about 96,000 meals in 2020 and 180,000 in 2021.
This year’s event consolidated all operations into one day. Rileigh Armstrong, recently hired as Merrimack’s minister for service and social justice, oversaw planning with a six-person student committee.
“I personally was very grateful for the groups that volunteered at the end of the day as we flew through meal packing,” said Sarah Lama ‘23, one of the student committee members. “They worked with us to move and count the boxes of food so we could be ready to distribute the meals.”
With a third successful event in this new format, Dlugos said meal-packing will be the focus of Mack Gives Back Day for the foreseeable future.
“I learned that the meals that we prepared on Mack Gives Back Day in November lasted out in the community until late February,” he said. “I thought, ‘That’s a bigger impact on the community than raking leaves in a cemetery in November.’”